What difference has StudentSurvey.ie made in your institution?
Since 2013, over 300,000 first and final year undergrads and taught postgrads have used StudentSurvey.ie to share their thoughts and feedback with their higher education institution. But in that time what difference has StudentSurvey.ie made in your institution? How have the results been used to enhance the student experience across the 25 higher education institutions that take part?
We are asking staff and student representatives to reflect upon 9 years of StudentSurvey.ie and how this major national survey has made an impact in your institution.
The Postgraduate Experience Working Group (PGEWG) was convened by the Student Life Committee (SLC), an Academic Committee of Council, in 2019. The Working Group Chair reports to the Student Life Committee on a monthly basis during term. The membership is drawn from across campus and includes representatives from: Student Counselling, Student Learning Development, Transition to Trinity, Global Relations, the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Students’ Union. The PGEWG is chaired by the Postgraduate Student Support Officer. The Working Group is tasked with developing service-level interventions which respond to the StudentSurvey.ie and PGR StudentSurvey.ie data and to other requests from the Student Life Committee, Dean of Students or Dean of Graduate Studies to develop supports or interventions as needs are identified.
The Working Group’s initiatives are:
- Tailored: empirical, evidence-based supports designed for postgraduates;
- Collaborative: cross-cutting, interdisciplinary expertise from across campus;
- Preventative: equipping postgraduates with the information, skills and resources to mitigate issues they face.
The workplan and individual workstreams were determined following the publication of the StudentSurvey.ie data by the Trinity Quality Office, as part of the University’s quality assurance process. Three workstreams were developed:
1. Responding to PG Feedback
The PGEWG compared Trinity scores with Irish and UK national averages to determine areas of focus Trinity research postgraduates had identified: Supervisor Relationship workshops; Ongoing training for researchers including in-sessional half-day skills days.
2. Defining and aligning best practice in partnership with postgraduates
In May 2019 Trinity hosted Postgrad Lives, Ireland’s first conference on the challenges and opportunities in postgraduate support and education. As partners in their learning, postgraduates were vital stakeholders in all aspects of the event and were strongly encouraged to submit abstracts and attend and chair sessions.
3. Enabling a compassionate community of learners
The Working Group created opportunities to engage postgraduates in shaping their own experience and foster a supportive culture within the postgraduate community. This included:
- Convening a weekly PG Support Group (Grad Chats) facilitated by a Counsellor and the PG Support Officer;
- A weekly Shut Up and Write Café convened by Student Learning Development;
- Securing philanthropic funding of €3,000 for a PG Community and Wellbeing Fund to support student-led welcoming initiatives
Benefits of the Project
Responsiveness: The Working Group responds to the needs of postgraduate students.
Strategic and reputational advantage: Sectorally, PG-Support is now recognised as an emerging area of focus, with LERU and the UK Council for Graduate Education highlighting the need for mental health supports in particular. Research suggests that half of all PhD students experience psychological distress and one in three experience symptoms of a common psychiatric disorder (Levecque et al, 2017). Renewing the PG curriculum and enhancing the postgraduate experience are key objectives of Trinity’s Strategic Plan 2020-2025.
Student Partnership: Students are co-creators of the interventions developed by the group as members of the Working Group and through responding to PGR StudentSurvey.ie. Postgraduates delivered or co-delivered half of the papers at Postgrad Lives and Trinity postgraduates chaired half of the panel sessions that day.
Resourcing: The collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the group promotes holistic responses, rationalises resources and helps to avoid duplication of activity across individual services/ divisions in Trinity.
Prevention: Its focus on pre-emptive intervention mitigates the need for resource intensive one-one support (see supervisor workshop data below).
Evaluation and Impact
The group has achieved over one thousand new student contacts since its establishment including:
- 547 workshop participants with a reduction in students presenting for one-one support for supervision down from 40% in 2017-18 to 25% in 2019-20;
- 193 contacts PG Support Group participations with 86% reporting the content was useful and 62% reporting an improvement in their academic performance.
- 203 unique attendees at a Shut Up and Write Café with 73% rating its impact as 10/10;
- 94 academics, professionals, policy makers and students attended Postgrad Lives in May 2019. #PostgradLives trended on Twitter that day.
Examination of participation figures and feedback indicates that the Working Group’s activity has been valuable and well-received by students. Its collaborative and preventive focus is unique to Trinity and reflects student affairs’ best practice.
The pandemic and consequent public health restrictions required members of the Working Group to focus on adapting day-to-day operations to the changed student needs. A review of the most recent PGR StudentSurvey.ie has highlighted ‘research culture’ as an area of focus for the Working Group for 2020/21.
The issue of resources for the group remains a concern; the members have taken on the Working Group’s activity in addition to their normal workloads and in order to respond fully to the ambitions of the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan and ensure Trinity remains to the fore of this emerging field, further resources to support the Working Group’s activity will likely be required.
For 2020/21, a member of the Library staff has been added to the group. The PG Community & Wellbeing Fund will also be re-advertised with a view to supporting student-led initiatives.